Hearing Dr. Maryanne Wolff
By Elisha Kalvass
I had the great please of hearing Dr. Maryanne Wolf speak in Houston last week at the Briarwood School. She is the Director of the newly created Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice at UCLA and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital Word. She was amazing to hear in person. She is a fantastic speaker with so much knowledge and passion in her message. I knew I would learn a lot about the reading brain but left with so much more.
If you are reading this. chances are you are a parent who is advocating for their dyslexic child. You know this journey is H A R D, hard. I sometimes feel crushed by the anxiety I feel looking at the mountain that must be overcome for my child, our children. I live in an enormous destination district that loves its “balanced literacy” and peddles our children generic reading intervention. The mountain that must be climbed to change this looks like Everest to me. This does not even touch upon the day to day advocating in the public-school setting. I get weary, we all get weary.
Yet, sitting in that room with educators from 15 different school districts, I experienced profound hope. Maryanne began by acknowledging that the audience she spoke to is her favorite kind of audience, adults in the trenches battling for children. She said that often when she speaks to this kind of audience, she sees our tired and weary faces and she wants to encourage us. And encourage she did!
There were 3 significant themes that stood out to me that were woven through her discussion of the science of the reading brain. The first is that while whole language and balanced literacy have managed to deceive millions of educators, Neuroscientists have won the war for our children. Furthermore, they are becoming great champions for direct, explicit instruction from a very early age. The second is that when we understand a characteristic of the dyslexic learner, we have information about what is good for ALL learners. This is very important to understand and implement. What our dyslexic children get in dyslexia remediation is the kind of instruction that ALL children should be receiving. If you are a parent of a non-dyslexic child, you should be demanding your child receive what my child gets in dyslexia therapy. As it turns out, it’s not just therapy, it is the way our brains learn to read. This proven science should be in every reading curriculum and classroom in this country for ALL children. The last point relates to the second. Only 1/3 of U.S children are proficient readers in 4th and 8th grade. This is criminal. When we know better, we do better, and we are determined that educators look to the decades of science and implement it in the classroom.
These statistics are hard to hear, and the graphs associated with this data hard to see. However, it is this data that is fueling advocates fury and fueling determination to make things right for our children.
If given the opportunity to hear Dr. Wolf speak, take it! I am grateful to the Dyslexia Initiative for allowing me the opportunity to hear her speak and share her encouragement with others.
Elisha is a parent advocate and one of the regional leaders in The Dyslexia Initiative.